How Pigeonism Ends

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Pigeonism is over. No longer can that individual credibly participate in any electoral process, anywhere. He owes more than three Teslas’ worth in unpaid federal taxes, he is under arrest – although free on bond – accused of nine felony counts, including grand larceny by extortion. Right now, two races are testing the scattered Pigeonistas’ ability to continue the patronage gravy train without their depraved guru. In the Assembly 143 race, the former treasurer for the WNY Progressive Caucus (“AwfulPAC”) is running as a Democrat, despite being a major player at the epicenter of the events that led to Pigeon’s downfall. The acting District Attorney, Michael Flaherty, has surrounded himself with Pigeon operatives, and had the nerve to comment on the Michalek conviction Wednesday despite the fact that Flaherty and his predecessor/mentor failed and refused to prosecute the alleged crimes that led to the Pigeon/Michalek bribery counts. 

The word is chutzpah, and we have a glut of it here in western New York. Flaherty has the chutzpah to comment on a conviction his office could have – and should have – prosecuted. Mazurek has the chutzpah to try and make it a scandalous trifecta in the A-143, after the disgraces of Gabryszak and Wozniak. Pigeon and Michalek had the chutzpah not only to devise a jobs-for-fixing-cases arrangement, but were so brazen as to memorialize it all in writing, believing they’d never be seen or caught. Sure, you can tell in some of what’s been released that Pigeon was uncomfortable discussing the ongoing corrupt behavior in emails, but Michalek had no similar qualms. These were two men who were sure this would never be revealed. 

What it says to me is that this was likely how people generally operated with Pigeon. All of it was corrupt horse trading of influence for jobs. It all boils down to how the patronage gets dealt, and to whom.

You scratch my back, I subvert one of the foundations of our pluralist democratic republic – an independent and impartial judiciary. 

Ultimately, this all reveals quite clearly that Steve Pigeon was the strongman of a shadow banana republic that operated quite freely and openly for a couple of decades. Pigeon might have been deposed, but his diehards continue their insurgency in A-143, with Flaherty, and perhaps even with Republican state Senate candidate Kevin Stocker, based on rumors I’ve heard. 

I think that it’s becoming clear that what’s left of the Pigeon faction is not going to find great success this election season. They are rudderless and will find it harder to fund their campaigns without Uncle Steve miraculously coming up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in shadily-sourced, seldom properly disclosed funding. The best Flaherty’s Pigeonista ally Jim Eagan can do is buy a Flynn-sounding URL and redirect it to Flaherty’s own site. Weak sauce, shady, savage, salty, are all terms the kids would use for that idiot tactic, and it does nothing to promote the candidate. It simply demeans the office and the process. 

The Republicans, who so often conspired with Pigeon to screw the Democrats, have been uncharacteristically silent, given the disgraceful fall of two prominent local (nominal) Democrats. You’d expect them to be howling, but in this case, Pigeon was oftentimes the greatest gift they could ever have. For instance, it was Pigeon who engineered the 2010 coup in the County Legislature, that transformed a majority Democratic body into a rubber-stamp for the execrable Chris Collins. Just months earlier, he had manipulated a similar coup to transform a Democratic state Senate Majority into a Republican one. That one earned Pigeon a patronage job under convicted felon Pedro Espada. 

In the Preetsmas series of articles, I coined the phrase, “Pigeoning: pi·geon·ing ˈpi-jən-iŋ: (n) the action of using money and influence, oftentimes pushing the election law envelope, to actively sabotage and undermine the Erie County Democratic Committee.” As you might imagine, this oftentimes required the Republicans, but especially the obsequious fusion parties – “Independence” and “Conservative” alike – to conspire with Pigeon to advance not just candidates, but their committees’ access to patronage jobs.

Nothing that Steve Pigeon ever did brought about real reform or good government. Nothing he touched had anything to do with policy, or helping the community – it was all about enriching Pigeon and the pilot fish who clung to him. Western New Yorkers of every party, of every race, of every nationality, of every class deserve so much better than what Pigeon and his cult offered. 

For many, including me, the Michalek bribery charges were anti-climactic. There’s got to be more. What happened to the election law crimes? Former DA Mark Sacha, who is also running for DA, and was instrumental in pushing the allegations of Pigeon’s criminality to the authorities, says that there remain election law-related felonies that could still be prosecuted. He suggests that they’re being swept under the rug because of politics. I hear rumors of other state court judges who have lawyered up. The FBI confirmed yesterday that a federal investigation is ongoing, and Attorney General Schneiderman made it clear that the state’s own investigation is also “ongoing”. There will no doubt be more. In fact, the FBI called this bribery investigation as only “one prong” of a multi-faceted, ongoing investigation. 

There has to be more. I suspect that the Michalek bribery case is just the amuse bouche – the low-hanging, easy to reach fruit that can be pushed through quickly to reassure an impatient public that progress is being made. All the while, law enforcement continues to build its other cases against Pigeon and others. 

(Bonus: read Ken Kruly’s retrospective and analysis here). 

This is all great for western New York generally, reasserting control over our political process and restoring some integrity to the process. But don’t overlook what a huge victory this is for the Erie County Democratic Committee and its chairman, Jeremy Zellner. Every time he’s been disrespected, dismissed, insulted as “young and inexperienced” by Pigeonistas and pundits, he’s maintained his professionalism. He’s taken his licks, and he’s come out on top. Every time someone disrespects him as a “boy”, he can simply wave a copy of the Pigeon indictment around and silently claim victory. Not victory as in, he’ll win every race he backs, but the victory of being the only chief of a Democratic faction who’s not under arrest facing nine felony counts of bribery and extortion. 

Pass the popcorn, because we’re just watching the trailers. 

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